Cancer Survivor from Blackpool #SpeaksOut

Head & Neck Cancer

‘I thought my sore throat was just swollen glands, but it turned out to be throat cancer’ – cancer survivor from Blackpool #SpeaksOut

After surviving his own experience of head and neck cancer, Chris Curtis is passionate about helping local charity North West Cancer Research (NWCR) raise awareness of the disease.

Chris Curtis, 60, from South Shore in Blackpool, was diagnosed with a squamous cell carcinoma (the most common form of throat cancer) in 2011, after noticing a lump on the side of his neck that was growing.

Despite putting this and his other symptoms of fatigue, weight loss and a hoarse voice down to ageing and swollen glands, Chris’ wife Sharon eventually persuaded him to see his GP after six weeks of feeling ill.

He was sent for a biopsy which revealed he had stage four throat cancer and three tumours, the primary one on the base of his tongue and two secondary tumours on either side of his neck.

Very shortly afterwards, Chris underwent a six-week course of high-dose radiotherapy and chemotherapy at Blackpool Victoria Hospital that shrunk the primary tumour. He then had two neck dissections to remove the secondary tumours from each side of his neck.

Unable to eat or drink because of the severity of his condition, Chris had a PEG feeding tube fitted to allow him to get the nutrients he needed.

For the next three years, Chris could only eat via the feeding tube, slowing down his recovery, and he lost a total of 12 stone. Chris also lost the full function of his saliva glands and a change in his taste buds, which made re-adjusting to food event harder.

In 2016, after being cancer free for five years Chris was eventually told he was in remission.

Chris said: “In the run up to my diagnosis, I was really busy at work and visiting the doctors wasn’t my priority, but my wife persuaded me to go. On the day of my diagnosis, doctors told me I was a week or two away from being inoperable and a couple of weeks away from ending up in A&E from being chocked by the tumours.

“This is why it’s important to know the symptoms and make time to visit the GP if you are unsure of any health changes. I had never heard of head and neck cancer, the causes or the symptoms, and having never been a smoker or drinker, I wasn’t aware that I could one day be diagnosed myself.

“I know from first-hand experience that head and neck cancer can be one of the most debilitating cancers both physically and mentally. Without being able to eat normally, it stopped me socialising which led me to being diagnosed with depression during my treatment and I even experienced suicidal thoughts.”

Chris will support North West Cancer Research’s #SpeakOut campaign in April which will raise awareness of the symptoms of head and neck cancer and encourage people to visit their GP or dentist if they have any concerns.

Chris also runs his own charity, The Swallows Head and Neck Cancer Support Group, that he set up in March 2012 to offer support to patients and carers affected by head and neck cancer. The charity now supports 7,000 individuals internationally and in 2017 Chris received the Queen’s Award for his dedication to helping others.

He added: “Head and neck cancers are one of the biggest cancer killers in the North West and by sharing my story as part of the #SpeakOut campaign, hopefully I can help raise more awareness of the disease and its symptoms, as well as the support we can offer.

“I would urge anyone, man or woman, to visit their GP or dentist if they have any concerns, especially if they notice early cancer warning signs.”

To find out more about the symptoms of head and neck cancer and support North West Cancer Research’s #SpeakOut campaign click here.

You can support research into cancers like head and neck by donating today.